True worship in the true Saviour
After the exposing the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and religious teachers in the teaching on the Seven Woes, and denouncing them as snakes poised to attack any righteous people sent by God, Jesus leaves the Temple and leaves the disciples to work out where the worship of God was centred – the Temple, as they had always known, or the Lord, as they were coming to know.
- This reading makes better sense if we start with the end verses of the preceding chapter: Matt. 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, His disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.
- The Temple was structurally complete but with additional development going on. It was hard for the Jewish-culture disciples, brought up with such a high view of the Temple as the dwelling place of God and centre of true worship, to see that the symbol of the building was now to give place to the Person of the Messiah. We have hindsight; they were having to see forward into change, like us trying to work out what happens after Brexit.
2 Then He asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
- Recalls Micah’s prophecy, Micah 3:12 (Monday).
3 When He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
- The ‘last days’ is a long time period beginning with Jesus’ birth and ending with His coming again. No one knows how long, and the Early Church lived as those understanding it to be imminent. Perhaps this is the point. Later in the chapter Matt 24:36-42 the description of the end times is given as an extended warning for us to be ready and prepared, unlike those of Noah’s time.
4 Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray.
6 And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: 8 all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
- Dangerous, oppressive cults and unhealthy leaders have arisen and we have become more aware of these in recent years. Similarly, we are more aware of famines and earthquakes. How much of this is because of visual, global reporting and how much is a result of more frequent incidences?
9 “Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.
11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But anyone who endures to the end will be saved.
- In other words, people say what they like, do what they like and behave as selfishly and harshly as they like. This is in society, but increasingly in the church also.
14 And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.
- Against this grim picture is the grasping and proclaiming of a kingdom-of-God-centred message, some would say as never before. We see numerical decline in the UK Christian church but there are plenty of examples of very rapid growth, spiritual and numerical. These are in the UK as well as across the world. There are places we can go where there is a rising expectation of meeting with God in a life-changing way, praying prayers that are answered and seeing Him bring His good order in ways we cannot explain.
Imitate the saints – who recognised the kingdom of God in Jesus (Matt. 24:1-14)
There is church and there is the kingdom of God.
The church is intended to uphold God’s kingdom order, to demonstrate it and to contend for it in a harsh and unjust world. However, being made up of humans, human faults often cause the agency of the kingdom of God to be less than caring and loving and truth-seeking.
Jesus, no less, had this problem with the bet religious leaders of His time, the Pharisee group who were paradoxically the group who knew and sought to live by the Scriptures more than any other. But they were proud of this, and took a superior stance to the Galilean rabbi with His unfashionable northern accent and builder’s hands. And so the enemy found them easy to turn to hatred and evil.
As you and I seek the kingdom of God – seek what God is truly doing, what His way and what His order of things is – we will find opposition. Often it comes from those quite close to us, believing many of the same things – and convinced that they are right.
Imitate the true saints throughout church history who were the humble ones, seeking to bring what God was bringing: His Word in their language, acceptance as His church whether in working clothes or fine, hope for those trapped in destructive lifestyles. Of course opposition comes to us, as it did to Jesus. The eyes of faith see above and beyond opposition, to discern God’s purpose and God’s order.